• 11Aug

    A victory for common sense, public safety, the Baihly Neighborhood and the City of Rochester. Now if we could just build roads right the first time (and eliminate state aid standards)…


    MnDOT required the city to remove the speed tables installed on Fox Valley Drive SW over 15 years ago.   You may recall a MnDOT representative came to a COW meeting and explained their position.  They contented the speed tables violated State Aid rules.   The City Public Works staff filed an appeal and requested a Variance from the MnDOT State Aid variance Committee.   The Committee denied the city’s Variance request based entirely on MnDOT staff testimony.  I appealed that denial of the Variance and sought a Contested Case Hearing, as provided for by Statute, on the denial.

    I recently received the attached letter from MnDOT.  The letter states that they have rescinded their denial and rendered the request for a Contested Case as moot.

    The city does not need to remove the speed tables or remove this street from the State Aid system!

    Richard W. Freese, P.E.
    Director Public Works / City Engineer

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  • 03Aug

    Here is a draft of the contract that we are going to attach to all contributions to organizations outside of the city of Rochester. Those with contributions under $100k will use a more basic form. Bottom line is that this will reduce conflict, increase transparency, and better ensure accountability.

    Draft contract.

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  • 24Jul

    Section 2 (of 3) of the comprehensive plan is now available. I spent a good portion of the weekend reading it. It appears outstanding. Section 3 is still a little rough. This is the first full update to the plan the guides community development since the mid to late 1970s. This plan appears to significantly improve the City of Rochester’s focus on the responsible use of financial resources.

    Comprehensive Plan Section 2

    I hope that section 3 will be coming shortly. It is imperative that the council adopt a strong plan, and stick to it.

    Expect that I will organize many community listening sections to discuss this topic.



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  • 19Jul

    Here is my statement to the Ethical Practices Board:

    Fraud: “deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.

    I received what I viewed as a credible tip indicating that Bari Amadio was attempting to change the conclusions of the Public Arts Masterplan to benefit herself and her organization. Through investigation on behalf of those I serve, I acquired evidence that showed, despite statements to the City otherwise, the Greater Rochester Arts & Cultural Trust was not committed to transparency, was not working with the collaborative arts community, and had no intention of creating an independent plan.

    When I successfully received the Public Arts Masterplan through a valid data practices act request; I received an additional document that showed both Brad Jones and Bari Amadio had written a summary document refuting a core finding of the Public Arts Masterplan as written by the consultant. Particularly concerning was that they wrote this before the groups that they promised to work with had even seen the draft document. The effect of the change they proposed would likely result in the directing of substantial public funds to their own organization.

    I believe that Bari Amadio and the Greater Minnesota Arts & Cultural Trust committed fraud against the people of Rochester. I do not like Bari Amadio and I certainly do not trust Bari Amadio. If any of these items represent a violation of our code of Ethics, I am guilty. Fortunately for me these beliefs and my willingness to state them have nothing to do with our adopted Code of Ethics.

    What I am here to do is respond specifically to how there are no violations of Chapter 13: Code of Ethics as adopted by the City of Rochester.

    While I greatly appreciate that the investigator Ms. Soldo rightfully dismissed most of the complaint, I am here to correct her errors and ensure that this is thrown out in its entirety. I am incredibly disappointed in both the technical errors committed Ms. Soldo and her unwillingness to even follow up on the statements I made regarding her incorrect assumptions with the City Attorney. You now have a separate sheet which I am not making public stating what those errors are. You can see that almost every section of the report contains an error. You can of course also check with the City Attorney on the factual basis behind these. Further I believe it was inappropriate for Ms. Soldo to suggest modifying the Code of Ethics to include areas which have nothing to do with ethics, it was not her job to change our ordinance to her liking.

    There are two significant allegations by Ms. Amadio and the GRACT. Let’s start with the easiest.

    Bari Amadio alleges that I committed libel. For numerous reasons I did not commit libel, but even more important, libel is not covered by our code of ethics and as such there is no violation of our code of ethics. Bari likely filed the complaint here because she knows she would have no chance in a civil court where this complaint belongs.

    This should be dismissed.

    Secondly, Bari Amadio alleges that I violated our conflict of interest policy 13.04 Subd. 2(B) which reads: [A conflict of interest shall include] Use of the person’s public position to secure special privileges or exemptions for the person or for others. For numerous reasons I did not violate this clause. To keep it simple, I did not secure anything, even Bari agrees with this. As such there can be no violation of this section. There is no violation for asking for data regardless if it is public or private and not securing it. Similarly, there would be no violation for asking and receiving data voluntarily. Bari might not like it; but the decision is crystal clear, I did not secure anything therefore there can be no violation here.

    Bari Amadio also insinuated that I intimidated her right before saying she wasn’t intimidated. I concur with the report which points out the silliness of this situation.

    This should also be dismissed.

    And with that all the substantive claims raised by Bari Amadio are gone.

    All that is left is fluff, where there is no specific language there is nothing in the Code of Ethics to address. What some are trying to do is use a vague descriptive phrase to imply misconduct, and even that is achieved by several errors as confirmed by the city attorney.

    Let’s review the general language in the in the Code of Ethics:

    Responsibilities of Public Office.  Public officials hold office on behalf of the public.  They are bound to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Minnesota.  Public officials must carry out impartially the laws of the nation, state, and city in fostering respect for all government.  They are bound in their official acts to the highest standards of morality and to discharge faithfully the duties of their office.  Public officials shall be dedicated to fulfilling their responsibilities of office.  They shall be dedicated to the public purpose and all programs developed by them shall be in the community interest.  Public officials shall not exceed their authority or breach the law or ask others to do so.  They shall work in full cooperation with other public officials and employees unless prohibited from doing so by law.

    This is incredibly vague. The Code of Ethics then goes into detail about what is and is not a violation. When no violation could be found, this generic language was then used to try to create a violation.

    These are the statements in their entirety between Bari Amadio and I:

    From Bari:

    “And Michael, the only thing I’m sitting on is my chair. I’m not sure where you’re hearing that nonsense but it’s not surprising. Next time, since you work for me in Ward 2, please feel free to contact me directly. I’m always available to answer questions. “

    From Me:

    “I would like to see the report in its current form, by the end of the week. The public owns it and has a right to see it… And oh by the way Bari, that request is on behalf of several artists in Ward 2, who have expressed a great mistrust in you. Elections have consequences and you get my oversight of the taxpayers dollars…”

    From Me:

    “I asked for and did not receive the draft of the public arts master plan last week. This is now my 3rd written request for that document. Please send it to the council this week.”

    From Bari:


    I understand from a legal perspective that you have been informed by the city’s legal counsel that you are not entitled to this information at this time. So I need to understand, why are you still asking for this?”

    From Me:

    “Because the taxpayers paid 50% of the cost. Regardless of staff not writing legal protections into a contract, the public should see this plan. I am currently concluding that the official position of the Trust is that you will not provide the document because you are not legally obligated to. I disagree, but want to make sure my understanding is factually correct.”

    From Bari:

    “Your conclusions are self-serving. The Trust operates independently as a private organization and it will determine the process by which the report is distributed to the public. You do not.

    The report will be revealed to the public when we are prepared to do so, which is actually next month, unless you have a legal opinion from the city attorney that states otherwise. I know for a fact that you do not as the city attorney has specifically stated that the disclosure of the report is not within your rights as a councilman. I consider this matter closed. If you have an issue, please take it up with the city attorney or my board chair.”

    From Me (to Brad Jones, cc: Bari):

    “Brad, I am requesting the immediate release of this publicly funded document as board chairman will you honor this request? I would encourage you to operate with transparency as the funding was pushed for by 2 elected officials who were found guilty of violating Rochester’s code of ethics. I look forward to a written response.”

    This is what is apparently so scandalous that it justified thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of expense. These are the harmless communications that simultaneously are said to be a violation of the code of ethics and yet not even covered in the code of ethics.

    Note that the very first time that Bari told me in writing that she would not provide the report, it was the last time I asked. I had what I needed, she was refusing to let the public see the report they paid for. Further she suggested that that I take it up with her board chair. I did, but never received a response. She also stated that the report would be revealed next month unless I had a legal opinion from the city attorney that stated it was public data.

    So, I got one… Both the legal decision stating this was public data, and then subsequently the data. I also got evidence of how she was attempting to manipulate the process and change the outcome in secrecy.

    I never expected that Bari Amadio or GRACT would willingly provide documentation that would show their attempt to defraud the public and redirect public funds to their organization. But, I knew I could get the document by other means as it was public information. By asking the question and getting a written response to the request from Bari Amadio, I created a record whereby I could demonstrate not only the fraudulent activity that was the Public Arts Masterplan; but also, the lengths she would go to hide the evidence.

    You may like my style, you may hate my style, but there is not a single line in the code of ethics that has been violated. If you think I did something wrong, then propose a change to the ordinance, don’t try to make up language to justify a violation.

    Lastly if you think that sending emails because of a suspicion of fraud on my part is a violation of our Code of Ethics, I am going to have to disclose many other violations. First, there is a young woman that is losing her home. She has a very limited fixed income and special needs. I am actively working with private developers and non-profits to find her safe housing that she can afford. Monday, I worked late into the night after a council meeting to better understand her needs. This is unquestionably exceeding the authority of a councilmember, in fact far more so than anything mentioned in Bari’s complaint. Since there are no standards in the code of ethics to evaluate “exceeding their authority” or “shall work in full cooperation with other officials” A decision that my requests for information violated the code of ethics in the absence of any language or standards would likely result in the need for myself and other city officials to self-report hundreds of violations like the one I just disclosed.

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  • 14Jul

    Wow, 40… That was fast. Here are some reflections.

    Things I did right:

    1. Lisa Wojcik – Very different than me, I would suggest incompatible in many ways, my wife and friend, I love you. 16 years and counting (18 if you believe my 2012 campaign flyer…)
    2. Anastasia & Natalia – Anastasia is my driven young leader, passionate about everything. Natalia is already one of the kindest people I have ever met.
    3. Jaida – My Paws & Claws Mutt is now 14 ½. Still a wonderful friend. Still cannot be trusted, especially around food.
    4. Community Service – The pay, working conditions, and hours all suck. So glad I am doing it. I work 50 hours a week to attack problems that often don’t affect me or my family. I am seeing a city change in a way that is more inclusive and equitable. Big challenges like housing, transit, safe streets, and sustainability. Every day is hard, every year is easy.
    5. Starting my own business – It took a while, but 9 years in I have a successful business, meaningful work, and a boss that I love.
      Wonderful friends – So many of you have helped me in my daily life and in my public life. I would never have won an election or stayed in Rochester without so many of you. What surprises many people is how many friends I have both left-of-center and right-of-center. I learned I can get along with almost anyone who will but the needs of the community first.
    6. Volunteering in the schools – Just taking 1 day per week and going into the schools better connects me with my kids and the needs of youth in the community. When a Kindergartener told me that she was having a hard time learning because she didn’t have any food in her tummy, it reinforced what I am doing in the community.
    7. Hosting an exchange student – A fantastic opportunity to personally learn about a culture, but also have my girls learn. We loved hosting you for a year, Josefina, and hope to see you soon.

    Things I did wrong:

    1. Too much time in jobs I didn’t like. 7 years in technology hoping for the job to get better. It never did. I did myself a disservice, and those I was working with.
    2. Chose a home not a neighborhood – Dual Income / No kids – we built a fabulous home, but without thinking about the neighborhood. My values would now have me choose a neighborhood first, and then a home. We are fortunate to be where we are, but neighborhoods have diverse peoples, businesses, and special places.
    3. Not enough time for friends – This is hard. Some weeks I work 80+ hours between my business and city work (along with some occasional teaching gigs). Too often I lose touch with some of the finest people I have known. Then too quickly they move, become distant, or pass away. I wish I could be a better friend.
    4. Glacier National Park – That’s right. Don’t get me wrong Glacier is amazing, but I am an addict. Because I have always been so in love with Glacier I missed opportunities to go new places. Visit all the National Parks but save Glacier for last…

    Some goals for my 40s:

    1. Live a life that is interesting.
    2. Frequent trips with the entire family or friends or wife or kids or solo.
    3. Run for a different office. Which one? I dunno, but local since that is the highest level of government.
    4. Earn a PhD. In what? I dunno, but there will be lots of numbers.
    5. Visit more interesting places. Visit the 3 states I have not yet visited. Set foot in 25 or so new countries. Do more hiking, biking, and exploring. Go to places like Katmandu, Timbuktu, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Torres del Paine, Milford Sound, and on.
    6. Safe connections for children in my community – I have never forgotten the young girl who died because our community didn’t provide safe connections. I will continue to change this.
    7. Develop Social Skills? Nah…


  • 22Jun

    Vacation interrupted in favor of affordable housing…

    Is creating affordable housing really a priority or do we just want to talk about the problem for another year?

    Here is a comment I received:

    Michael, I’ll admit to being very disappointed with your view on the industrial site for affordable housing. Is this REALLY what we want? This seems like we are segregating these moderate income families and their kids from other residential areas. Their access to parks and trails will be across impossibly busy streets, surrounded by an industrial setting that is bound to cause these homes to never be able to escape the depressed market value such a neighborhood will have.

    Maybe we need a mixed income zoning requirement that would require 15% of these houses to be high market value, so there is equal opportunity for the kind of limited resources this area will provide for residents.

    It seems to me so very much not mixed income housing–help me understand why this is the direction you think we should be going

    Great question Helen, I will try to explain why I support this site.

    First, or decision to approve a site is dependent on our land development rules. The one issue that has come into play general compatibility. A compelling case against this was made by Nick Campion. I like to think I made a compelling case for it. There is some level of subjectivity, so I am not surprising that the Planning was split as was the council. I don’t think any preposterous leaps like when we declared that 50 units per acre was low density residential in Kutzky Park. Any time you find me and Randy Staver on the same side of a split vote, you know things are getting wild…

    That is the legalese, now to the good stuff…

    Is this REALLY what we want? No. I personally would want all affordable housing to be mixed income transit, connected, walkable to most amenities, have access to extensive green space, and have certainty of future compatible neighbors. Perhaps this in not what we want, it is what we need.

    The site is located in an industrial area, but that is misleading. The site is surrounded by uses that are largely technology, transportation, and retail. Industrial land sounds like there could be a superfund site there. Really there are some technology companies there. The site has a small amount of additional residential in the area. My biggest concern would be late night noise issues which we can mostly address through conditions of approval.

    While there are no immediately adjacent parks, there is immediate access to the most heavily used state trail in the state of Minnesota. This safely leads to the nearly 400 acre Cascade Lake Park. I know this route well as I bike it 50 times a year. In addition the proposed development would house more than 160 households and offer some on site amenities.

    One of the most important considerations for affordable housing is good access to jobs & services by walking, biking, and public transportation. This site has some reasonable access to retailers, grocers, and jobs. The transit is not currently great there, but we know this is changing fast. Our transportation and comprehensive plans call for the area where this project is proposed to be mixed use and dense. Further, it is near the intersection of 2 future primary transit routes. Access to transit is actually one of the greatest strengths of this site.

    Right now in Rochester we need thousands of affordable housing units. Since designating this issue as a priority earlier this year the city council has taken no actions to address our enormous shortage. No one policy or development can bring the market into balance, but this, like the inclusionary housing ordinance, can be part of a solution. This project is essentially asking for nothing in public subsidy, at the same time luxury housing in downtown Rochester is getting millions in subsidies (and yes, while mostly voting against these I have supported some offering public improvements).

    Is building housing in an industrial area crazy? Maybe, but we just did it successfully two times. Concerns were raised about the Ashland Village and Flats on First proposals. These projects now provide housing to more than 100 households and I suspect have a substantial waiting list. Of course “affordable” is not the same to all people but we are creating units that are more affordable to more people than we would otherwise have.

    Here is the big picture. We have a site that has been vacant for the 18 years I have lived in Rochester. We need thousands of units of affordable housing. The growth of low wage hospitality, service and retail jobs in the community will only make the situation worse (increasing the minimum will help). We have limited tools to address the problem. Here we have a proposal on a less than perfect, but acceptable site. It would create high quality, safe, healthy, affordable housing for more than 160 households. It would grow the tax base at almost no incremental taxpayer expense. Its hard to fill our 8,000 open jobs without providing people a place they can afford to live.

    Great question Helen, hope the answer articulated my reasoning.

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  • 12Jun

    Today I will propose a change to how the City of Rochester oversees $7 million dollars in support for outside agencies. I am frustrated with the status quo and am pursuing corrective action.

    The memo that I prepared for the council can be found here.

    Recent events have shown a persistent weakness in our oversight of public funds. This proposal would create professional oversight and decrease the influence of political connections in the allocation of public funds. I view this as a needed step to restore public faith in our management public funds going to partner organizations. While not every organizations has had issues, every taxpayer dollar deserves meaningful public oversight.

    Here is the approximate amount of taxpayer funds being issued to outside organizations in 2017.

     photo 2017 City Outside Contributions_zps10d0huev.jpg

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  • 24May

    Here is the latest information on how I and the city plan to review proposals for the reuse of the armory. I would give a tip of the hat to Nick Campion who started us out on the right foot. He made some good suggestions and I switched how I plan to review these the proposals. In addition Annalissa Johnson & Mark Bilderback (thus a majority of the council) also agreed.

     photo Position on Rochester Armory Proposals_zps5n0olvok.jpg

    The city council will review the 5 proposals at a committee of the whole meeting on June 5th. Due to the heightened interest in the community we will be moving the meeting to a larger venue. For now the 5 proposals are private, but as I receive permission I intend to share those 5 proposals here. I will add links as I get public data.

    Contrary to the case with other decisions, in this case the Council may make their decision by whatever criteria they so choose. We are also free to talk about our thoughts and opinions at any time. In short, we are not in a “Quasi-Judicial” role.

    I would say 3-4 of the proposals were very good. Previously I supported the ACI proposal and again they made a strong proposal.

    I am also interested in your input, please send me questions you think we should ask at the COW meeting. I am going to publish a list here so no one gets to surprised. I have a strong preference in maintaining public ownership of both the Armory and the parking lots. I could see eventually selling the lots, but only after planning is firmed up in the area.

    Some questions I may ask:

    1. Under your proposal would the Armory remain publicly owned? (this is disclosed)
    2. Does your proposal require the inclusion of the parking lots?
    3. If the parking lots are a currently required; would you still pursue the project if those lots remain publicly owned?
    4. If your proposal calls for private ownership of the Armory, would you consider proceeding with a long term lease instead?
    5. If a long term lease would work, what length and terms would you consider?
    6. What do you see as the typical usage and demographics in a given week?
    7. How will your project benefit minority / low income / immigrant communities?
    8. Your question here


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  • 11May

    I support Tom Ostrom’s unquestioned right to say just about anything he wants that falls under the broad protections of free speech. I don’t know Tom Ostrom, but I do know many of the people that feel targeted by his baseless claims. I do not agree with what he is saying and wish to express this to KROC, paid advertisers on KROC, and the community. That is my free speech. I have great respect for many of the people at KROC and know that quietly they don’t like what is being said either. Read more…

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  • 03May

    I am really impressed with the detail and analysis contained in this report. All of the recommendations in this report are quite conservative and easily implemented. Robert Hickey of Grounded Solutions engaged a wide range of stakeholders to ensure accuracy of the data.

    Mixed Income Housing Policy Report Read more…

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